If you’re buying real estate for the first time, it’s probably something you’d like to be able to live in, and most likely you’ll be facing the same problem nearly every other first time buyer faces, namely, “I really can’t afford what I want.” So the right house usually is the house you can afford. In many cases, that’s a condo or some other property that you can buy with your money and credit. Your agent will help you with that decision, but the main thing to do is to condition yourself to the reality that you’re not going to get the perfect house when you make your first purchase. 


Buying the perfect home is usually a 3-4 step process: you buy the first house, live in it 3-10 years, make it nicer than when you bought it, then buy the next one using the equity you’ve acquired in the first house, and so on. That is a process that has worked for a couple generations in San Diego County, but that may be coming to an end.  Prices are flattening, and the signs are that they will continue to do so, perhaps even declining a bit over the next decade or so.  I know that the “puffers” of real estate pricing want to tell you that prices can only go up, but we’ve recently all seen that’s not true. The problem, as you’re acutely aware, is affordability, which is near the historic low for our part of the world.


So here are a couple of strategies to make sure that, if you have to stay in your house for the next 30 years, you’ll like it.

1.Always buy the best neighborhood you can afford.  Neighborhood always trumps home size and quality.  I’d rather be in a “dog of the street” in the best neighborhood than in a beautiful home in the worst neighborhood.

2.Always look at schools.  Schools tell you great deal about a neighborhood.

3.Always drive the neighborhood you’ve chosen at dusk.  If you’re afraid to get out of your car in that neighborhood, it’s probably not the place for you.

4.Watch distances.  I’ve lived in the East County for much of my real estate career and I’ve had friends who moved from there to Temecula, when they worked in Point Loma.  VERY bad idea, as they soon found.  The commute kills you.  You need to be as close as you can to where you work and play, or know how long it takes you to get to the places you need to be, and be completely comfortable with those distances.

5.If you’re buying a condo, get as much information as you can about the homeowner’s association.  Being in a condo or P. U. D. with an active homeowner’s association can be a wonderful thing, IF the association is a good one.  The opposite is also true.  Finding that information is probably impossible for your agent, since everyone who wants to sell will lie if it’s not a good association, so you should do some research on your own. Ask your agent how to do that, and be comfortable with the association before you buy.  Your agent can’t control the homeowner’s association, but if you see that change is needed, you can usually help by getting elected to the board.